Students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have graduated from the Parkland school, and the parents and siblings of those who died in the shooting walked across the stage in their honor.
The families of nine students who died in the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting were in attendance for the school’s graduation ceremony at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Tuesday night.
“We know that all these kids are going off to live the lives they wanted to live and their parents dreamed of them living,” Max Schachter, who lost his son, Alex Schachter, in the shooting, said.
Before the ceremony, MSD’s Class of 2021 posed for photos and adjusted their gowns while their parents clutched balloons.
However, Schachter brought his son’s photo to the ceremony.
“Alex can’t be here, so I have to,” he said. “He deserves to be graduating with all the other kids in the class.”
Alex is one of the nine members of the Class of 2021 who were killed during their freshman year.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina Montalto, was killed in the massacre, also attended the graduation ceremony in honor of his child.
“It’s very painful,” he said. “Although, right before we left our home, we took our family picture. Sadly, it’s my wife, my son, myself and a framed headshot of our daughter.”
Parents and siblings of those who died in the massacre walked the stage in honor of their loved ones. Each of the children’s families received a shadow box that contained an MSD stole, a cap, tassel and an honorary diploma.
Multiple celebrities, including Tim Tebow and Jimmy Kimmel, recorded lessons and wishes for the graduating class.
“We are inspired by your resilience in the face of tragedy,” Kimmel said in a video.
President Joe Biden was among those who recorded a video for the students.
“The world has already seen just how capable you are, how strong you are, how resilient you are,” Biden said. “There’s no question — you’re already changing the world.”
“Be a beacon of light in what can sometimes be a dark world,” Debbie Hixon, who lost her husband, Chris Hixon, in the shooting, said. “As you move on and continue to heal, I hope that you will also remember and honor those who were lost on Feb. 14 by continuing their legacy of service and kindness.”
“Part of their legacy has been a tremendous improvement in school safety, as well as for the smiles and the good times they left behind,” Montalto said.
In the wake of the tragedy, many of the parents have started foundations, such as Safe Schools for Alex and Stand with Parkland.
Although the graduation signifies the end of one chapter of their lives, the parents of the students who died said the fundraising and the activism will continue.